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Nurse Corps

Though nurses aided military men in earlier American wars such as the Civil War, the Nurse Corps was not established until 1901. Their role was instrumental during World War I as many served overseas in troops, trains, transport ships, and hospitals. After World War I, the government demobilized the vast majority of the unit, so there were only approximately 1,000 nurses in the Nurse Corps by December of 1941.

At the onset of World War II, the US military was in dire need of more nurses, so they cut down the requirements necessary to complete nurse training in favor of an abridged 144 hours program. The program included basic military training and instruction on administration, organization, sanitation, and ward and clinic nursing. By the end of WWII, more than 59,000 women had served in the Nurse Corps. Sometimes exposed to the same risks as the soldiers they cared for, nurses performed their duties even when their stations were under fire.

Due to fabric rations and restrictions, half of the Nurse Corps did not receive the olive green uniform that was introduced in 1943. The seersucker on display in this exhibit is an example of a uniform that would be worn in temperate zones and warm climates. Along with this uniform, nurses received jackets, stockings, underwear, trousers, canteens, helmets, boots, pistols, and other equipment.

Navy Wool Nursing Cape

This nursing coat made of navy wool belonged to Cornell Alumni Barbara Forman Edson, who earned a combined BS/RN degree at Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing in the 1950’s. Forman’s daughters and granddaughters are all graduates of the College of Human Ecology. The “CU” embroidered on the Collar stands for “Cornell University” and the "NYH” stands for “New York Hospital.” The inside label on the cape contains additional embroidery reading “BF," Forman’s initials prior to marriage. Lisa Edson, one of Forman’s daughters explains of her mother, “She wanted to be an actress. Nursing was the furthest thing from her mind. She was stunned when her father wanted her to get a “real degree” and study nursing. She only agreed if her father promised to write a note to excuse her from class with a cadaver. When the day came, she called him and adamantly reminded him of his promise, which he fulfilled.” As a nurse, she selflessly served in the children’s units keeping patients’ spirits high even when diagnoses were grim.

Nurse Cadet Uniform

This size 16 U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps uniform consists of a gray-and-white striped jacket and skirt. The jacket, bolstered by shoulder pads, is adorned with red wool epaulets and metal buttons branding the Nurse Corps insignia. A label inside the jacket neatly prints laundering instructions: “Remove Red Epaulets and Wash Separately.”

Sally Gibson Noel, a 1947 graduate of the College of Home Economics and the Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing, wore this uniform. Noel developed tuberculosis midway through her education at the New York Hospital in 1945, so she was unable to finish training. She was the daughter of Professor A. Wright Gibson Ί7, Director of Resident Instruction in Agriculture, married Ensign Lionel M. Noel, USN, in 1949, and died April 7, 2008.